On Saturday, April 28, the unbeaten Marauders proved that playing lacrosse in the morning is not a bad time for them at all.
Tess Callaghan, Sabrina Mellusi, Gina Ahlmeida and Francesca Verrone scored two goals apiece to lift Mount Olive to a 13-5 triumph over Morris Hills in a regular season contest.
Steph Friscia, Sam Evans, Marisa Ference, Claire Callaghan and Steph Halonski each added goals and goalies Alex Tepper and Kellie Venetis shared six saves for Mount Olive (10-0).
Danielle Aihini and Casey Lyness scored two goals each for Morris Hills (4-8). The Marauders dominated in the first half by building an 8-1 advantage. Mount Olive led by as much as 10-1 before Morris Hills put together a second-half rally to get the game within six goals. After a timeout, the Marauders pulled away.
Mount Olive 's success might be a surprise to some but not to the players, many of whom worked hard in the offseason to improve their skills. The Marauders started the spring with an inkling that something special might be developing.
"Knowing all of us and how we work together, I knew we were going to have a successful year,'' Santana said. "It wasn't like years before. In the past, you were dreading practice. This year, I'm happy to be with my team so we knew there was something there.''
Many of the Marauders credit second-year coach Vivianne Thomas with putting in a new system and challenging them to reach their potential. Thomas, who played at Rutgers and coached at UConn and Drew University, has gotten their attention.
"Coach pushes us to our full potential,'' senior Tess Callaghan said. "She knows how we can play and she pushes us in a positive way. ... She knows us a lot better as individuals and as a whole. We're a little more comfortable with each other."
Coming from the college ranks, Thomas felt that it has been a challenge for her to try and mold a group of players with a variety of skill levels into a working unit. She is impressed with the way the Mount Olive players have adapted to her changes and meshed together during their brilliant run.
"It took awhile for me to employ new standards and a new system,'' Thomas said. "Everyone has been pretty solid and playing together to take that to the next level.
"This is a very fun and into it team. They are very positive with everything. They have such incredible unity. It's a good year and it's a good team as far as personalities."
There are some players that are difficult not to notice. Francesca (Frankie) Verrone is a standout right from the opening draw.
"She's the franchise,'' Santana said. "We call her Frank the Tank. ... She's our draw girl. She's very aggressive. She's strong. She's smart. She's a triple threat.''
A strong two-way player with great stick skills, she can initiate transition herself or get the ball to another talented midfielder Brianna Shakespeare.
"She's fast,'' Callahan said. "She's a lefty. You can't even tell she's a lefty because she so good with her right. She gets ground balls. She knows how to play defense. She's good on the whole field. We have a lot of girls who are good on both ends of the field. We can trust them with the ball which helps.''
Thomas also praises her defensive efforts, especially when it comes to help defense. The Marauders like their defense and are especially happy to have a goalie like Alex Tepper who can sort things out.
"Every day she is amazing,'' Callaghan said. "She's really good at directing people. She's a talker. We need her to tell us where we need to go. I know the defense likes to know where it has to slide.''
On Saturday, everything was working well for the Marauders in the first half. Seven different players pumped in goals to help Mount Olive build an 8-1 edge. Tepper stopped four of the five shots put on her.
After Mount Olive built its advantage to 10-1, Morris Hills rallied courtesy of scores by Kristie Ecke, Aihini and Lyness. The Marauders took a timeout with about 13 minutes left and sorted out some things and then scored three of the game's last four goals to cement the win and keep the streak rolling. Keeping the unbeaten string alive brings pressure but the Marauders feel it's a good kind of pressure.
"Once you hit 7-0, 8-0, 9-0, 10-0, there's pressure because you want to keep that,'' Santana said. "You want to keep that reputation for yourself. You want to be 11-0 after the next game.''